Thursday, July 08, 2021

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Teri Ellen Cross Davis

Teri Ellen Cross Davis is the author of a more perfect Union, winner of the 2019 Journal/Charles B. Wheeler Poetry Prize (February 2021, Mad Creek Books) and Haint (2016, Gival Press), winner of the 2017 Ohioana Book Award for Poetry.
She is the 2020 winner of the Poetry Society of America's (PSA) Robert H. Winner Memorial Award and a finalist for the PSA's George Bogin Memorial Award. She is the recipient of a 2019 Sustainable Arts grant and a Meret grant from the Freya Project.
A Cave Canem fellow, she has been awarded residencies at the Community of Writers Workshop, Hedgebrook, the Soul Mountain Writer’s Retreat, the Virginia Center for Creative Arts and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. She is on the Advisory Council of Split This Rock (a biennial poetry festival in Washington DC), a semi-finalist and finalist judge for the National Endowment for the Arts Poetry Out Loud and a member of the Black Ladies Brunch Collective.
Her work has been published in many anthologies including: Bum Rush The Page: A Def Poetry Jam, Gathering Ground: A Reader Celebrating Cave Canem's First Decade, Growing Up Girl, Full Moon on K Street: Poems About Washington, DC, Check the Rhyme: An Anthology of Female Poets & Emcees, The Golden Shovel Anthology: New Poems Honoring Gwendolyn Brooks and Not Without Our Laughter: poems of joy, humor, and sexuality. Her work can be read in the following journals: ArLiJoAuburn Avenue, Beltway Poetry Quarterly, Delaware Poetry Review, Fledging Rag, Gargoyle, Harvard Review, Kestrel, Kinfolks, Little Patuxent Review, Love's Executive Order, MiPOesias, Mom Egg Review, Natural Bridge, North American Review, Pacifica Literary Review, Poet Lore, Poetry Ireland Review, Raising Mothers, Tin House, Torch, and Sligo Journal.
She was the HoCoPoLitSo (Howard County Poetry and Literature Society) Writer-in-Residence for 2019-2020 and an adjunct professor at George Washington University for 2019-2020. She is the Poetry Coordinator for the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington D.C. and lives in Maryland with her husband, poet Hayes Davis and their two children

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different? My first book, HAINT, in 2016 opened the door to the second and any consequent books. It let me know that there was an audience for my work, that my work was at a standard that someone wanted to publish it and that someone was out there reading it. This second book is me  but with more confidence and playing with house money as they say- I had the first book out, anything after that was gravy. This second book feels different,I was more confident about exploring approaches and influences.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction? My mother taught me to read to poetry. It has always been a part of my life and at some point, I acknowledged that it always will be a part of my life and sought it out.

3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes? It all depends on the poem. Some poems come out closer to finished products, others begin looking nothing like the finished product. Sometimes the writing comes in spurts-I've written a few poems in one day (most often at residencies) but often it's the editing process that lingers and lingers and I find myself coming back to tinker with a poem until it feels done.

4 - Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
There's a great Robert Frost quote 'A poem begins with a lump in the throat' and I have found this to be true for me. If not a lump, then it's like my mind is a shaggy sweater that has been caught by a nail. Something happens, a thought or situation unravels and reveals its true self and I spend hours trying to capture the moment of reveal in writing. With this second book, I felt different projects weaving themselves together- I knew I wanted to create Goddesses, I knew I was still and will always be enraptured by music, and I knew I had to write about the now and then of race and gender in America, about the Constitution, and about how this country has failed Black women.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings? I actually like public readings - I am always incredibly nervous but I genuinely appreciate the feedback and the sharing.

6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are? I think there are theoretical concerns behind my writing but I am so often caught up with the questions in my writing and the execution of the writing that that is where I focus most of my energy. What is the question behind any poem - why poetry, what role can this poem play at this particular time, what connections or erasures are being made?

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be? I tend to think of writers, and really I mean poets, as being the soul of a nation. I feel as if we are bellwethers who can pick up new trends, new conversations, new ways of thinking and explore them, break them open for others to enter.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
I'd say a little of both - this is the first time I have worked with an editor and I found the process to be rather seamless. There was a little back and forth but it all worked out and I was happy with the end result!

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)? Read and then read more. Also any advice by Audre Lorde - what are things you are not saying, not writing about, what are your fears, etc.

10 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin? I don't have a writing routine and I think the pandemic has exposed me for not having one! I've written less this year than I can ever recall of course I have also been working from home with a husband who is teaching from home and two children who are learning from home, so it's a wild, wild, world right now.

11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration? Always Lucille Clifton. She reaches my soul and her words sound like them I remember them and they reawaken me.

12 - What fragrance reminds you of home? Sandalwood.

13 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art? Always music - I just want to wrap myself up in it, twirl around, get dizzy then fly. Plus I feel like jazz songs have a whole story in them and that intrigues me. I could write a whole book of poems with just jazz song titles. And nature- I am becoming more and more of a gardener so it amazes me what we can coax from the land.

14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work? Any work by Lucille Clifton and Toni Morrison, and lately it's the writers in Afrofuturism like N.K. Jemisin or Isabel Wilkerson's CASTE, I am all about news way to envision living a Black life.

15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done? More traveling - I have never been to Asia, Australia, New Zealand, South America, other parts of Europe and Africa, so I would love to see more and learn more languages.

16 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer? This is an odd one, but seriously an FBI profiler. I am intrigued by the dark side, even though I can never cross over into it. (I once put salt on a slug I thought was dead and when I realized it was alive, I cried. It hurt me that I hurt a living creature.)

17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else? I had to write-words are the medium I feel most comfortable in, these are the colors and sounds I know best.

18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film? I, Tituba by Maryse Conde and perhaps the last great film I watched- maybe Gentlemen Prefer Blondes - I was introducing Marilyn Monroe to my children or perhaps Christopher Nolan's Tenet.

19 - What are you currently working on? Finishing a puzzle and figuring out where book 3 will take me.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

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